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Baseball / Sports

Former White Sox manager Jim Fregosi dead at 71

Summing up Jim Fregosi's life runs much deeper than his 18 seasons as an All-Star shortstop and 15 years as manager that included an unsuccessful but amusing three seasons with the White Sox.

"He was really larger than life," said childhood friend and longtime baseball evaluator Gary Hughes after learning that Fregosi, 71, died early Friday morning after suffering a stroke earlier this week during a cruise in the Caribbean.

Jim Fregosi Jr., told MLB.com: "He went in peace with no pain."

Hughes, a special assistant with the Red Sox, knew Fregosi from more than just their days playing in a Babe Ruth League in Redwood City, Calif.

The affable and opinionated Fregosi touched many lives, from schoolmates that he would join for fishing expeditions in the Seattle area, to former teammates and executives, to concierge lounge workers at hotels that he would tip generously during scouting missions.

"He took care of a lot of people, and he never made a big deal about it," Hughes said. "He was the life of the party. You never had to worry about what his opinion was."

Fregosi often would hold court with scouts and reporters in press boxes and dining rooms at ballparks, but he saved his best information for the Braves, for whom he worked as a special assistant the past 13 seasons.

"All of Jim's friends at the White Sox were stunned and saddened at the news," the Sox said in a statement. "Jim was your classic baseball lifer, with the experiences and stories to match a career devoted to the game. He will be missed at the ballpark this spring."

Fregosi's knack for talent evaluation and managing a game rivaled his talents as a player, in which he made six American League All-Star teams as a shortstop and a 1967 Gold Glove Award -- all with the Angels.

In the midst of the 1978 season, the Pirates released Fregosi so he could embark on his managing career with the Angels and he led them to the 1979 American League West title.

In the spring of 1999, immediately after Fregosi left to manage the Blue Jays, a dejected Giants general manager Brian Sabean told beat writers how he learned the importance of scouting your own players from Fregosi, whose input as a scout was instrumental in the Giants winning their first playoff berth in eight years in 1997.

Fregosi's pursuit of information as a scout was relentless.

The White Sox held him in high regard despite three last-place seasons after taking over for Tony La Russa as the franchise embarked on a rebuilding program through the draft.

His greatest managerial success, however, occurred when he sculpted a group of talented but wild Phillies players from last place to the National League pennant in 1993.

Fregosi's managing career ended after the 2000 season despite two winning seasons with the Blue Jays, but the Braves immediately hired him as their top talent evaluator.

As a manager and evaluator, Fregosi was blunt. He once told mercurial Phillies pitcher Jeff Juden after a series of bad outings, "sometimes you have to look in the mirror to figure out what the problem is."

As a shortstop at Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo, Calif., Fregosi loved to say that he told Hughes, a left fielder, "put your back against the fence and I'll field everything in front of you."

Also, Fregosi would refer to slugger Barry Bonds as the "second best baseball player to come out of Serra High School."

Fregosi, however, knew his shortcomings as a major league player. He initially warned of the transition Alex Rodriguez would have to make from shortstop to third base in 2004 after being traded from the Rangers to the Yankees.

"I know how difficult it is, because I was bad at it," Fregosi recalled of his transition after being dealt from the Angels to the Mets after the 1971 season for four players, including a raw but future Hall of Fame pitcher named Nolan Ryan.

But there was little argument Fregosi was the best all-around athlete to graduate from Serra, which has produced the likes of All-Pro quarterback Tom Brady, Hall of Fame receiver Lynn Swann and Bonds.

As a baseball player, Fregosi stood out well before he attended Serra. There was no organized baseball on the North Peninsula section of the Bay Area, so Hughes recalled one adult picking up any junior high kids who were headed to Serra and driving them to Redwood City to play in the closest Babe Ruth League.

That group included Hughes (who played at San Jose State), Tim Cullen (a seven-year major league infielder) and Fregosi, who would travel 15 miles to play three games a week.

Fregosi excelled in four sports -- football, basketball, baseball and track. Hughes recalled Fregosi was the Catholic Athletic League's broad jumping champion and often would compete in home track meets between innings.

The Red Sox drafted and signed Fregosi in 1960 but the Angels selected him in the expansion draft and he made his major league debut in September 1961 at 19.

As a student, Fregosi possessed strong beliefs. Hughes recalled when a popular student faced no competition as student body president.

"Jim said, 'Someone has to run against him,'" Hughes recalled. "He felt it was the right thing to do, so he ran against him. Jim didn't win, but it tells you about the quality of the guy he was."

Fregosi found time to have a life outside of baseball. He owned two fishing boats and occasionally would take some of his former coaches on excursions.

He met Joni, his second wife, during a successful three-year stint managing Triple-A Louisville in the early 1980s and raised two sets of families.

(c)2014 Chicago Tribune

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Distributed by MCT Information Services


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